Guest Author - Bonnie DeLong
Preconceived notions exist everywhere in our society and the classroom is no exception. Teachers who have not been trained as to the unique characteristics and needs of gifted learners may erroneously make assumptions regarding how they learn and how they should be taught. Itís helpful for both parents and teachers to be aware of some of the misconceptions that exist regarding educating gifted children. This awareness can lead to better knowledge and understanding of what is most beneficial to gifted students.
1. Misconception: Gifted students are so smart that they will do fine on their own.
Reality: A common belief held by many classroom teachers is that they do not need to do anything extra for gifted students because they are very independent and learn everything on their own. While many gifted students are quite independent, others are not. Every gifted student deserves to receive an education which enables him or her to learn new things every day. This learning should be deep and expansive which does not typically happen just by already having the regular classroom material mastered.
2. Misconception: You donít need to identify gifted children until mid-elementary school.
Reality: Many school districtsí identification plans and programming services do not start until third or fourth grade, sending the message that children either arenít gifted until then or cannot benefit from intervention from an early age. In reality, giftedness in children exists prior to them entering school. Learning to recognize and nurture this in the early years is more beneficial to children in the long run. It enables them to start to become more self-aware and successful in their learning.
3. Misconception: Students shouldnít skip over material or move too quickly through curriculum; they might miss something. And what will they do next year?!
Reality: Teachers often feel uncomfortable with the idea of curriculum compacting. This is a technique in which students skip over material that they have already mastered in order to move more quickly through the curriculum, or so that they can go more in depth with content. Some educators fear that students will miss information that they need. Others donít like that they arenít doing exactly what the rest of the class is doing. However if a student is pretested over specific subject matter and shows mastery of this material, he or she should be allowed to study new material. Any ďholesĒ that show up in the testing can be easily taught and will be quickly mastered so that the student can move into greater depth with new content.
It can be tricky to determine what gifted students will do each year if they have already mastered current grade level information but there are always options and alternatives. Most of them do not have to cost a great deal of time or money and can utilize such techniques as attending different classrooms and schools, accessing online learning and using mentors.
4. Misconception: Grade skipping can socially harm students.
Reality: While numerous adults worry that grade skipping is detrimental to children because it places them in situations with peers who are older than they are, studies continue to show that this practice is overwhelmingly successful when done for appropriate reasons. Great consideration needs to be made before utilizing this option. For example, the parents, student and school should all support the action; the student should be considered advanced in several area (including maturity) before skipping; proper support mechanisms should be in place to follow up after the skip takes place; etc. Gifted students often prefer being with older peers anyway so this becomes a positive component of grade skipping. A word of caution: for children who are working several years above grade level, grade skipping may not be the best option. There is the possibility of placing children with peers who are simply too socially advanced for them. Other alternatives such as homeschooling may need to be considered here.
5. Misconception: Heterogeneous classrooms are better for everyone.
Reality: Human beings are not all the same. We do not all learn in the same ways. It is not beneficial to anyone (struggling learner, average learner, advanced learner) to receive a one-size-fits-all education. While there can at times be benefits to working in heterogeneous groups, the most effective learning takes place when spending time with others who are like us in terms of intellect and learning profiles.